Martha Graham Company, The Joyce, New York

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After many difficult years the Martha Graham company appears to be steadying itself as it comes to the end of celebrating its 80th anniversary. The two-week season is playing safe with some of Graham’s seminal works, such as Appalachian Spring. Judging by the first night the dancers are exceptional, even by the standards set by such former luminaries as Christine Dakin and Teresa Capucilli.

As a prelude to an opening that fell on the anniversary of 9/11, a short excerpt from Lamentation, featuring Graham herself in the four-minute film, was a potent reminder of the date, as if we needed any; a reminder too of Graham’s gift for projecting mood and drama. As their reaction to the film, Azure Barton, Richard Move and Larry Keigwin have choreographed three short pieces entitled Lamentation Variation. Miki Orihara and Yuko Giannakis introduce Barton’s section danced to George Crumb, a wailing voice accompanying the two black-clad dancers, one sad, one happy, thrusting legs and arms in all directions. Finally one falls to the floor and the other walks away. Katherine Crockett, who possesses fashion model beauty, is an accomplished dancer of assured Graham technique. Her slow progress across the stage, clutching herself, balancing and keening in Richard Move’s solo to a grumbling monotone score by D.J. Savage, was impressive in its control. But for sheer emotional impact Larry Keigwin’s section, set to a Chopin nocturne with the company assembled in everyday costumes facing forwards on stage, their hands clasped and aflutter, the steps simple walking, really caught the spirit of universal grief.

Embattled Garden to Surinach’s Spanish-accented score is an Eternal Quartet – Adam, Eve, Lilith, Adam’s first wife and The Stranger, the last two waiting to disturb this Eden danced on and around Noguichi’s playful sculptures. Jennifer DePalo as Eve, David Zurak vacillating between love and jealousy as Adam, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch a mysterious Lady X waiting to pounce and Maurizio Nardi a sensationally virtuosic, predatory Stranger danced their roles to the hilt.

Night Journey, Graham’s feverish take on the Oedipus myth from Queen Jocasta’s standpoint, starts with her death and continues in flashbacks. These days it’s beginning to look too much like its numerous parodies. Nevertheless Elizabeth Auclair was an impressive Jocasta, Tadej Brdnik a sturdily convincing Oedipus, with Nardi, wonderful again, if under-used, as Tiresias the staff-thumping Seer.

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